I am putting these out a few at a time because I want to svor the memories. I may even be adding to the story fragments as I remember more.
Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
By the time I was 15 I was ready for this staple read for good Southern girls and women. I was hooked from the first pages and the Tarlton Twins. I opened the cover of Margaret Mitchell's novel and it sucked me right into it. I could not put it down. I read until the wee hours using a flash light under my covers after my parents told me, "Lights out, Ellouise." And when I finished it - I started back on page one and read it again. And over the years I have read it several more times.
I did not see the movie until I was almost thirty. But I knew the story. My paper back copy from the 1950s - its pages now quite yellowed - is on my book shelf - within arms reach if the urge to read it again comes over me in the middle of the night.
When Jim and I went to Irelalnd three years ago we stood on the Hill of Tara - the home of Irish kings. I looked over the fields and thought of the Georgia O'Haras and their Tara - "Ah, this is where that came from."
Miss Susie Slagle's
In 1954 as I was preparing to leave Charlotte for The Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore someone mentioned this book to me. I searched high and low and found a copy. I could not sleep on the train that night so I sat up in the Ladies Lounge and read Miss Susie Slagle's from Charlotte to Baltimore I finished it as I settled into my life as a student nurse.
The book is set in Baltimore at the turn of the 20th century. The very proper heroine Miss Susie Slagle owns an old multi-storied row house near The Johns Hopkins Hospital and she lets rooms to medical students. The novel is their story or stories as the young men make their way through the rigors of their medical education. The highly romanticized hospital setting and events captured my imagination before I ever laid eyes on the red brick buildings. It was quite an unrealistic preparation for entering nurses' training but one I loved and never forgot.
The novel is a work of fiction but the character of Miss Susie is taken from a real person. I had not known that until five years ago. At a Class Reunion dinner I sat next to Jim's class-mate Fred, now a retired NC doctor, who lived in such a house just as his father had. I think I mentioend that I had just re-read Miss Susie Slagle's and that set off our conversation and his stories. "It was a home. We were family. I lived there all four years."
The book was reissued in the late 1990s so I have my own copy. I dipped into it two years ago before we went to Hopkins for Jim's Medical School reunion and I probably will thumb it this week before we head off to Baltimore for another of those reunions. And if I see Fred I will ask for more stories from him.
What about my class at Nursing School? Don't be silly. I achieved another goal - my MRS. I married a medical student instead.
As I thought of a book for my list I found myself placing it in a time and setting in my life - quite outside its plot. Along with the book title came a personal story fragment. That's what happens with storytellers - anything and everything is a possible story prompt.
Not turning that down.
While you are thinking about your book list I will share these three from mine.
Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
Most people swoon over Alcott's Little Women but this is the book I loved. For some weird reason I identified with the little girl and her cousins although Massachusetts and her snowy days were a far cry from North Carolina and her family situation and the characters were not remotely like mine. When I think of reading Eight Cousins I remember sitting on the stairs in my Grandmother Diggle's house - near the floor-grating for the basement furnace. I could see the coals glowing orange in the coal-furnace below the grating and and it was toasty warm on the stairs.
I adored the Nancy Drew mysteries - Nancy was so brave and adventurous as she solved the mysteries and drove around town in her roadster. The ones I read first I found in Granny's back yard storage house. My aunt was only ten years older than I was and they were her books. They had the classic blue hard covers. I still like to read books in a series - where the situations change but the characters are familiar and their worlds remain the same.
I loved Granny's storage house and spent many happy hours there rummaging through boxes, trying on old clothes and reading some other books that were way beyond my years and understanding - which made them all the more delicious. And, I shamelessly nosed into my aunt's diaries. Even I recognized that they were not particularly interesting - but they were dangeroulsy off-limits.
Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner and Emily Kimbrough
This is a story of innocents abroad in the 1920s and 30s. Two young women make a trip to Europe on their own when they are just out of school. They wrote sophisticated and funny accounts of their mis-adventures. This is another book I found at Granny's - in the house not the shed- probably my aunt's also. I must have been about 13 when I read this one.
I remember sitting in Granny's bedroom in a small rocking chair near a sunny window reading it. Since I had never been anywhere except to the beach or 12 miles away to Belmont to boarding school, I did not have a single personal experience to relate to. I certainly had no concept of being on an ocean liner, in a European hotel, or any city on " the other side of the pond." But I got it that they were having a wonderful time and I loved it. I wanted to be able to write light-hearted tid-bits about my life the way they were doing it. I still do.
Since then I have been to Europe and have had some mis-adventures of my own - and you know something - to this day - I always think about those two young women when I am traveling. I guess I can claim them as a seminal influence.
Blarney Castle, Ireland, e.schoettler,
Looking at my calendar I realized that this time a few years ago Jim and I were packing for our first trip to Ireland to water our Irish roots.
Hold that thought. Maybe there is a story coming on.
Later: well, no, I guess not this time.
iris, digital photograph, e.schoettler
We have an eccentric collection of old and cast-off stuff in our PA house. Being taken to PA probably saved a lot of it from being tossed out.
But not this suitcase. It was never in danger of being sent to the dump. It is mine. We have traveled a lot together.
Mama and Daddy gave me this suitcase and a larger partner as a present when I graduated from Central High School in 1954. This was my going away bag when I left for Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore, MD that September. Oh, no, this worn and frayed companion is in no danger. It is my connection to too many memories.
The man with the three soccer-player daughters sitting in front of us at Mass Sunday was wearing a faded tee shirt with an amusing design on the back right in front of both Jim and me. The design was a cartoon of two black clad nuns on surf boards riding the waves - the caption - Nuns Beach - Stone Harbor.
After Mass Jim and I said to each other, "Did you see the tee shirt?" and laughed.
Curious I googled it today. Read the story of Nuns Beach, the sisters, and surfing HERE
Thank heavens for that tee-shirt. I would have hated to miss this story.
Cars were parked along the shoulders of the road and there were small colored picnic tents scattered on the grassy field perimeter.
Kids of all ages rush after balls in a multitude of soccer games taking place across the battlefield - the bloodless skirmishes of a 5 state soccer tournament on fields once soaked in the red blood of violent battle.
We were early for the 9 am Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church - time to once again take in the calm and beauty of the simple large room of the old building. The sanctuary is flanked by four large painted glass windows on each side of the room. The church is old. Well-kept. This building was turned into a hospital for both North and South during those bloody July days in 1863. I guess the spell of Memorial Day was on me because I found myself wondering about the pain, death and suffering that these walls had seen during that time.
At the time for the Sermon a stocky, elderly Deacon approached the pulpit. I admit it - his opening did not grab my attention but then I heard," I guess there are some here who might remember hearing about the "screaming eagles" of World War II. The young men of the 81st and 82nd Battalions who jumped behind the German lines on D-Day. They parachuted in to assist the landings on the beaches of Normandy."
His voice deepened. He choked with emotion. " I was with the 82nd Battalion - there were 200 of us in our group. Only 80 survived."
He paused. Waiting until he could speak again. "We were all just kids."
"Recently I was with a friend who served in the South Pacific theater - on the islands, during World War II. He asked me, Rich, do you think it was worth it? Its funny. We must have been thinking about the same things. I thought for a long time and then I told him. "Yes, I think it was worth it.
It was for the kids."
There was a family sitting in front of us - a father with three daughters dressed for soccer. The picture of the Gettysburg Battlefield and all todays soccer combatants flashed in front of me. "Its for the kids."
After Mass when I saw the Deacon-speaker standing alone on the steps I went over to him. "Thank you for your words today." He smiled.
"Did you say you jumped with the 82nd?" "Yes, I did."
Suddenly his eyes filled with tears. He put his hand over his face for a moment. He looked back into my eyes. "People don't understand. They just don't understand."
I touched his arm. "I know we don't. But your story helps make it real for us. Thank you."
Our drive to Mass this morning took us along the edge of the National Battlefield. I hoped something would emerge that I would want to share. It did.
Bits and pieces of my experiences today are a collage that is a new story - - but I don't want to post it until I can upload the pictures. The story is another example of being on the alert for what's happening and having a story fall into your lap.
Until then - to remember the meaning of Memorial Day - I recommend you take a look at Alan's BLOG for a very meaningful Memorial Day video and at Patti Digh's for a very moving essay.
1. Yellow, altered digital photograph, 2009
Thinking of Van Gogh and the Provence sun.
2. OLD VIDEO - Picked up a video at the Chevy Chase Library - The Nine Tailors - a Lord Peter Whimsey tale by Dorothy Sayers. It is the first PBS mysery Jim and I watched - could it really have been 1976? Its still good.
3. NEW-TO-ME BOOK SERIES - While I was at the library today I checked out a few of the Grimm Sisters series by Michael Buckley. I had never heard of these books - a new take on fairytales - until I bumped into them on a blog while I was surfing the other day. If you are interested you will find them in the Children's Department - but it looks like a quick read grown-ups will enjoy as well. What about this - Buckley's premise is that we humans might be living with Ever-afters - you know those in the stories who lived "ever-after." That would surely explain some people I have met - and maybe sometimes - me.
Buckley's premise does not surprise me. I know there are giants among us.
How's this for evidence?
1. Red Orchids - digitally altered photograph.
Playing with color satisfies me; lifts my spirits. Flower forms are useful subjects for these color antics. In real life these orchids were originally a deep pink. Don't you love the surprise of the blue stems.
2. Watching the American Experience documentary The Kennedys on PBS tonight - appreciating their mythic story and reliving my own memories of those years. Walter Cronkite's tears when he announced John F. Kennedy's death always brings me to tears as I recall the tears I shed when I watched him say those words on that November day. We lived in Chapel Hill, NC where Jim was in his Residency at NC Memorial Hospital. I was ironing, watching my daily soap operas as my little children played near-by. They broke into the program and there was Walter Cronkite in his shirt sleeves talking about Dallas. That is a "passage" moment - where were you that day?
3. The sweet smell of a cake baking in the oven adds such a homey feeling to the kitchen. Tonight when I was overcome by a domestic urge I took out a box and mixed up a cake. Angel Food cake is my favorite to make because its good and it rarely fails. Recently I have tried different brands , Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker and Safeway. This is a Betty Crocker which rises gloriously and has a great texture. It is good eating. Can you tell I could not wait so I tasted it?
2. Loving the new PBS mysteries, Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh.
3. Charlotte Blake Alston told wonderful stories last night for Telling Moments theater. Traditional African folktales enhanced by her music, her strong voice and her presence.
The exhibition included folded books, altered magazine sculptures, collage constructions,
prints, and collages on hand-made paper - the hand made paper was made in class by the students.
Re-cycling was a major theme so the students used cast-off materials to make their art work.
Pyramid artist Ellouise Schoettler, Gabrielle Morcate, the classroom art teacher, and Pyramid artist Adjoa Burrowes.
The weather was inviting as Jim and I drove to Georgetown to deliver some papers. I double-parked and hovered while he ran inside to drop them off. When Jim hopped back into the car we decided to park and have lunch. A spontaneous lunch date.
As I pulled into a parking place on 31st Street we both noticed a fire truck at the corner. Half a dozen firemen in blue were pulling something off the truck. We craned our necks to see signs of smoke. Turned out there was not a fire. The emergency was smaller and more contained. This man was stalled in his motorized wheel chair. His battery was dead. The firemen hooked his chair up to the truck by a long electric cord to charge the battery so that he could get going again. No disaster - we had happened upon a good deed.
In case you are wondering - we were not the only passers-by who stopped to take a picture of the wheel-chair rescue.
Jim and I walked a little way down 31 Street and decided on SNAP for our lunch. I was drawn in by the vivid paint-job on the building. Jim liked the names of the sandwiches.
The narrow row-house had room for a food bar and several tables. The mirrors over the mantel of the former-slim living room helped to give the illusion of a larger space. We chose the patio eating area in the back.
The menu featured crepes and pannini sandwiches - all named for their Mediterranean combinations. Jim ordered the pannini - something with chicken, feta cheese and artichoke and a bit of green salad on the plate.
I ordered a veggie crepe - fresh spinach leaves, cheese, asparagus, mushrooms and onions.
Jim's sandwich was over-cooked and hard. My crepe was just right. The crepe was lightly browned and tender, inside fresh spinach leaves and melted cheddar cheese were a delicious combination.
Sitting outside we were in the city. Even though we were sitting in the secluded back patio we heard the city sounds around us - cars, trucks, horns, sirens and distant pedestrian talking. Like people describe hearing the refreshing noises of the forest we soaked in the ambient noises of downtown Washington, DC.
Georgetown is on the flight path for landings at Reagan National Airport so every 3- 5 minutes there was a plane over-heard on approach for its landing.
It was good.
Our art critique group met yesterday afternoon in a painting studio at AU. We bring in our work - whether something new or an older piece we want to re-evaluate - and talk about it.
MORE THAN WORDS
Today is the last session of More Than Words, the class Adjoa Burrowes and I have been teaching this semester at a local Middle School.
The class has been fun - - stories and book-making. But you know something lately everybody is tired - the students and the teachers. It is time for summer.
Today we will put the final touches on the pieces for the exhibition at Pyramid Atlantic on Saturday. The show is going to be a winner. These students have done some really excellent work.
Ashton and her mother, my sister, Dena.
And, it was a great well-storied week-end.
The telling of tales from the Arabian Nights on Saturday evening went very well. The music by the NIH Philharmonia was terrific. And for me, the storyteller, standing in front of 600 faces intently absorbing the stories was quite a thrill. Then the orchestra played Scheherazade. I thought I heard her voice in the notes of the violin. A magic evening.
Sunday Chief Ike's Mambo Room in Adams Morgan was packed - standing room only for Speakeasy's Mommie Dearest. Eight storytellers primed to tell a menu of personal stories about mothers which brought you into their lives and experiences.
What more could you want? I am so glad to have been a part of it.
The cast of Mommie Dearest.
And for me, an extra plus was having my family there to hear my version of Mama's New Story.
Today I am still glowing.
But no time for too much glowing. This is Monday. Hop to. Pick up! Get some order back into this house.
And then the treat -
Betsy will be here for supper to tell me all about my high school class reunion - the one I missed when I stayed home to story.
Mama and Ellouise Photo circa 1940
Dress rehearsal for Scheherazade went well last night. I told the stories to the orchestra. Then they tuned up and played the Rimsky-Korsakoff, Scheherazade - four movements. Wonderful. The large room was filled with the music and I imagined the stories.
Pulling up Threads
The music was familiar and brought back personal memories. I also had images of the living room of a second floor apartment two blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital. The open windows over looked No. Broadway in Baltimore. Jim lived in this apartment with a classmate the summer he and I were dating. I asked Jim if he remembered our listening to his room-mate's recording of the piece . I was a bit disappointed when he drew a blank. I guess that's how it goes.
Yesterday my cousin Jim and his wife Pam arrived in town,. Pam was the bearer of surprising gifts - for me. She brought me three well-loved Carole Little tops she found in a thrift shop in Florida.
I love Carole Little's signature choice of richly colored fabrics in her clothes. Pam said, "I thought of you when I saw them and I thought well, if you can't wear them you can make art with the fabrics."
Not cutting these up yet. These are not only perfect storytelling garb - they also fit me. Now instead of wondering what I am going to wear tonight - I can stew over which one to wear. What a blessing.
CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL - Class of 1954
Tonight my high school class is gathering in Charlotte, NC for our 55th reunion. I know there will be lot of hugs, laughter and stories. And, I am missing all that. This little girl stayed home.
Choices are so hard.
When I accepted the invitation to tell stories with the NIH Philharmonia tomorrow night - I did not realize the conflict. And later - when I really focused on it I first thought I would race to Charlotte and then zip back up the road - nine hours - on Saturday in time for the concert. Clearly ridiculous. I had to choose. And I chose Scherazade.
Truthfully there is another big reason - I have not been back to Charlotte since Mama's funeral and I am not quite ready to go yet - especially not on Mother's Day week-end. I will be telling a story about her instead - as part of the Speakeasy show, Mommie Dearest on Sunday.
I will be thinking about my classmates tonight. I do miss being there. Many of us have known each other from elementary school until graduation. We carry many of the same memories.
I talked to Betsy yesterday as she was collecting herself for the drive to Charlotte. I am grateful she is stopping by for supper on her way home to PA on Monday evening. She will have some stories. It will be more fun to hear them in person than on the cell phone in my Toyota phone booth - the way we usually talk. I know we will be laughing. Isn't the laughter what's part of the joy of being with good old friends. People who know you - and you know them - and you don't have to edit your thoughts or what you say.
My other reason - the challenge of crafting and telling these stories from The Arabian Nights 0r 1000 and One Night however you call it.
I remember the first time I heard one of these stories. Sister Mary Loyola read Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves to a group of third grade girls on a rainy afternoon at Sacred Heart Academy. I was fascinated by the image of calling out "sesame" to open the mountain to enter the robbers cave. I am not telling Ali Baba. I am telling the Merchant and the Genie which is actually three stories folded into one and its been quite something to condense it into the time I have for the telling.
In the 1980s I bought an old Oxford Classics Volume of Burton's translation of The Arabian Nights for 25 cents at The Trading Post, a thrift shop in Madera, CA. I used it as a sketch book on week-end with Jim at the wonderful Ventana Lodge near Big Sur, CA. I still have the book - somewhere. But I did not read the stories then - the print was too small and they had no "pull" for me.
No better way to "learn" stories than to tell them. I have come to really understand and love the magic of the tales. And what's more - I am finding out that there are other adults, like me, who have never read them and enjoy hearing the original stories - not the Disneyfied versions - they read to their children and grandchildren or see in the movies.
Its been a slow wet day here. And that kind of day saps all my energy. So, finally getting back to this.
Yesterday I went to St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church in Rockville for a sound check on my microphone for Saturday night - that is when I will be telling the Scherazade story with the NIH Philharmonia. Mic worked fine. But being there made me a tad nervous. The church is new - an amphitheater style set-up and it is huge. The sound-guy told me their concerts are usually standing room only - and the church seats over 600.
Wow - so a few people. All the usually vain throughts popped up - what will I wear, get my hair done etc. You know the important stuff.
I decided to tell the stories last night at the Kensington Row Bookstore. Just an added run through before the dress rehearsal Friday night. Went very well. In fact a woman told me afterwards, "From your first words I was entranced. I want to read the books (The Thousand and One Nights)". Made me happy, relieved, to have that feed-back.
SHERRY We ended the evening with a time for memories about Sherry. Nothing formal - just informal memories from those who knew her and who had heard her stories here. Nice.
When Robert was born I was in the Ninth Grade at Piedmont Jr. High School. I was mortified that my mother was pregnant. I did not tell anyone -until I found out that the mother of another classmate was also expecting. Daddy was 35 and Mama was just 34 at the time, mind you, although they seemed "old" to me.
Mama was due in May and the exciting prospect of his arrival coincided with all the closing events of my Ninth Grade school year - particularly the Spring performance, an operetta, and the induction of new members of the Jr. Honor Society. Both were very important to me. I was President of the Honor Society and would be conducting the School Assembly and I had the second female lead in the Operetta. As it turned out - Robert was on time and Mama missed both events. I don't remember Daddy coming to the operetta but I do remember him standing in the back of the auditorium watching the Honor Society Assembly.
For my role in the operetta I played an old gypsy woman. Mama made me a long, full, and colorful skirt to wear with a white peasant blouse and a shawl - my costume. She stayed up late the night she went into labor and finished hemming the skirt. Daddy woke me about 6 am to tell me he was taking Mama to Mercy Hospital - to have the baby. When I got up I found the skirt folded on the couch in the living room.
In those days you only guessed the sex of the baby - you know the old-fashioned suspenseful way. Leaving Mother Nature to hold at least one surprise card. When the word came - a boy - my Daddy was beside himself. He at last had his son. There was never a question that the boy would be named Robert Bernard Diggle, Jr.
Poor kid. He not only had Mama and Daddy - he had three sisters looking after him - three other mothers. That's a lot.
You can hear Sherry telling her story "Lessons from Our Children".
Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Pyburn Grose
She is my - my great, great grandmother.
Here she sits in a posed studio portrait. When my Aunt Catherine, Koki, gave me the original larger picture, framed under glass, she said, "here she is Ellouise - "herself" - sitting up straight like the Queen."
A Glimpse of Elizabeth Pyburn Grose.
A bit of back-story.
Elizabeth Pyburn was born in London, England May 5, 1835.
I don't know what year she came to the United States or whether she married Samuel Grose in England or America. (P.S. - This is a genealogy lesson - Read Carefully. Tonight- after I wrote this - I checked the Grose file and re-read her obituary - She came to America with her husband Samuel Grose - and they lived in Maryland for two years before the moved to NC. )
But I do know her first child, Mary Louise, was born in Pikesville, Maryland in 1859. Mary Louise is my great grand-mother. Her oldest daughter Marie Louise married Sam Diggle and they are my father's parents.
Catholic Masses were said in the Grose home by a circuit riding priest until St. Peter's Catholic Church was built on Tryon Street, about six blocks away. Elizabeth Grose was a pillar of the church until she died. IN 1905 the Grose family gave the land next door to the church where O'Donoghue Hall was built as the first Catholic School in Charlotte. . My daddy and his siblings went to that school. The last time I looked the building was still standing behind St. Peter's Church.
The family story is that Samuel Grose was a mining engineer and he came to Charlotte to work for the Mint. For a while they had a dry goods store in Charlotte but it failed. I only have a few papers and they leave curious clues. A "pass" for Samuel Grose as an agent for the Confederate Army. Papers for Elizabeth Grose when she filed her intent to apply for citizenship in her own right. A copy of her obituary and her will. There are days when I think I should just put other stuff aside and finish pulling their story together.
I often think I write these notes as bread crumbs for some curious soul who wants to follow the trail.
I do have a family story about Elizabeth Pyburn Grose. Koki told it to me a dozen years ago when I was collecting family "ghost" stories.
In 1920 my grandmother, Louise Diggle, Elizabeth's favorite grand-daughter, was seriously ill in Mercy Hospital. The doctor's held out little hope for her to "make it through the night."
In her bedroom at 628 South Church Street Elizabeth was also seriously ill. Her daughters Annie and Kate were sitting up with her late in the night. I can imagine Aunt Annie, siting as straight-backed as her mother, with her rosary beads in her hands.
Elizabeth roused up. Annie and Kate urged her to be still, "Rest, Mama."
"No, I want to tell you about Louise. I have talked with the Blessed Mother. This is how it will be."
"Mama, please, be quiet. Rest."
"No. I have talked with the Blessed Mother. Louise will get well. I will take her place. I will die tonight."
And that is how it happened.